Despite some pandemic restrictions, live theater is finally returning to Oak Park and River Forest High School. Miss Holmes has two other performances remaining this weekend in the Petit Théâtre.
I have long admired our community’s support for the high school drama program. Long after their students have graduated, parents often continue to attend OPRF shows, especially major spring musicals. I know people really missed top-notch live student productions during the seemingly endless COVID era.
Now they are back, with carefully observed pandemic restrictions. Members of the public are seated 3 feet apart. Masks covering both the mouth and the nose should be worn at all times.
All of the performers wear masks which, of course, make it impossible to see the facial expressions of the actors. But each has a microphone, so none of the lines ever sound blurry or hard to understand. The cast does a good job with it all.
A talented and lively 12-person multiracial cast presents a delightful take on the old mysteries of Sherlock Holmes, titled Miss Holmes. The imaginative 2016 play ventures into genre territory while remaining sensitive and respectful of the characters created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930), the British writer and physician who created Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson. Chicago actor and playwright Christopher M. Walsh wrote the intelligent two-act drama, a period play set in late Victorian England. The plot centers on Miss Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Dorothy Watson, female versions of the iconic detective and staunch friend of Doyle.
This wonderfully staged, fast-paced production is directed by James Bell. The actors deliver solid performances. Some of the ensemble, like Wyllow Oladipo, even tackle multiple roles.
In addition to the beautiful performances, there is a glorious stage design. Holmes’ cozy and cluttered living room at 221B Baker Street, has red walls and a flickering fireplace. A foggy, gas-lit street generates a startling and menacing image during several chases. The stage artist is Charlotte Boultinghouse.
The end of the 19th century was a time when society did not appreciate smart and courageous women. Both Holmes and Watson must negotiate the delicate social and political realities of the 1890s. Although the play is set 125 years ago, some of the Victorian norms and limitations that most women were forced to endure are still recognizable and are not yet completely “historical”.
Hannah Zavalkoff gives a relentless and powerful performance as the cunning but frustrated Miss Sherlock Holmes. She appears to be constantly incarcerated for behavior considered unresponsive to a lady. When we first meet Miss Holmes, she sports a black eye due to a fight at the asylum where her brother dumped her.
Brigid Barrette plays Dr Dorothy Watson, a fiery rebel who fights to make a difference in the only hospital in London that will hire female doctors. When we first meet her, she is dressed in a bloodstained apron. She is loyal but often perplexed by her companion. She’s more than just a staunch sidekick, serving as a vital buffer between Sherlock and the rest of the world.
Sherlock often comes to the aid of endangered women, such as Lizzie Chapman, a newlywed, played by Leah Gerut, third wife of menacing high-ranking Scotland Yard investigator Thomas Chapman (Georgia Gutierrez), whose previous spouses mysteriously died.
Holmes and Watson, a dynamic pair, immediately emerge as a tribute to every capable woman’s battle against oppression and sexism. Although there are a lot of light moments, the two actresses give the characters dignity and intelligence.
There are a lot of twists and turns, besides feminist ideas. The mystery continues to unravel.
It’s not just a whimsical parody with women playing male characters, but a gripping story featuring women struggling with a heavily male-dominated society.
Sherlock’s bossy older brother Mycroft Holmes, played by Lowell Rindler, often bailed out his sister while trying to control her.
The other cast members are Lee Chaoemtiarana, Alyssa Schulz, Gia Reed, Emery Brandhorst, Lizzie Phelan and Simone Arventis.
Delia Ford is the fight choreographer, Greta Kirby the assistant director and Lucy Mann the stage manager.
Jeffrey Kelly designs the costumes, with Patt Cheney styling and makeup.
Patrick Ziegler is the master electrician, Sam McDermont the sound designer and the master carpenter is Jonny Hugh.
Miss Holmes breathes new life into the classic and beloved characters of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The whole production is thoughtful and delicious.
See “Miss Holmes,” Friday and Saturday, October 8 and 9, 7 to 9 p.m., at the Little Theater in Oak Park and River Forest High School, 201 N. Scoville. Tickets cost $ 8; $ 6, students / seniors. Tickets / more: oprfhs.ticketleap.com/miss-holmes.